Lack of both government leadership and current food and nutrition data have been major obstacles in Australia’s salt-reduction campaign. Non-government groups such as the Australian Division of World Action on Salt & Health (AWASH) and the Heart Foundation of Australia have taken the lead here while some food manufacturers have been proactive in reducing added salt.
Only recently have moves have been made by government to address these deficiencies:
- The Food and Health Dialogue was formed last year to focus on raising the nutritional profile of foods through reformulation, consumer education and portion standardisation. Members include the Australian Food and Grocery Council, the National Heart Foundation of Australia, Woolworths, the Public Health Association of Australia and CSIRO. However progress is slow; from 10 priority reformulation categories, sodium targets have only been set for bread and cereals and these will be implemented voluntarily by manufacturers and retailers.
- The Australian Health Survey (AHS) – the first comprehensive national health and nutrition survey since 1995- is scheduled to begin next year. At this stage that the AHS plans to collect measurements of urinary sodium which will provide an accurate baseline from which to measure the effectiveness of sodium reductions.
- A review of food labelling laws and policy in Australia is considering national policies on nutrition, consumer choice, healthy lifestyles and enforcement issues. The Review’s final report is expected in December 2010 and will contribute to the development of the National Food Plan.
Finland and UK lead the way
Finland was one of the first countries to decrease its population’s dietary sodium. Mass-media campaigns, working with the food industry, and labeling legislation has lead to reduced sodium levels in processed foods. Since the 1970s, food that’s high in salt must carry this warning.
In 2003, the UK began a population-based approach to reducing salt. Working with industry, the UK government’s campaign reduced sodium in key foods and successfully reduced the population’s average intake by from 9.5g to 8.6g salt (3440mg sodium) in 2008; lower targets are set for 2012.
In 2008, the European Union established a framework on salt reduction to ensure a common, population level strategy across Europe. The targets –a reduction of at least 16% against 2008 national baseline levels over four years- is applicable to all food products as well as to food consumed in restaurants and catering facilities.
The New York City Health Department is coordinating the National Salt Reduction Initiative, which has set two and four year targets for sodium reduction in 62 categories of packaged food and 25 categories of restaurant food.
- A government-led, nationwide information campaign should be undertaken to educate the public about the importance of dietary sodium reduction and the impact of their food purchase decisions.
- Mandatory sodium targets must be considered if industry fails to demonstrate voluntary reductions are having a meaninful impact on sodium intake.
- Food labelling must clearly and accurately convey nutritional information to the consumer.
- CHOICE is calling for a traffic light labelling system that allocates red, amber and green lights to foods based on their fat sugar and sodium content.
- Until traffic light labelling is introduced, we believe that for sodium:
- Percentage daily intake (%DI) references should be based on the NHMRC’s upper adequate intake for adults (920mg)
- Child-targeted food products should show %DI values based on accepted nutritional guidelines for children rather than the adult daily maximum of 2300mg
- Nutrient information, including sodium, should be readily available at point of purchase for takeaways and fast foods so healthier choices can be easily made by consumers.